In today’s Gospel lesson (John 10:19-42), Jesus encounters the religious elites of his day, who ask him, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” His response, “I told you, and you do not believe,” reveals just how far apart these two actually are. The authorities are looking for a messiah (a.k.a. “Christ”), but they aren’t looking for Jesus.
In the exchange that follows, Jesus reminds them that the works he has done show that he is God among them: “I and the father are one”; and “Believe the works [that I do], that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” In other words, Jesus says to them, “Can’t you see what I’m doing and realize that God has come among you?” But that isn’t the sort of savior they were looking for.
Throughout history, people have wanted a “messiah” but have preferred one who would come on their own terms. Jesus came as God among us—one who could not be subjected to the will of anyone but God. So often, I want a savior to come and do what I want him to do—solve my problems the way I want him to, give me the things I want, and rescue me from the challenges I think I need saving from. But that’s not how God works. God sent us himself, and an encounter with God is very different than an encounter with a “savior” who comes on my terms.
If I sit a listen to a gifted preacher or I go to a conference and hear an amazing presentation, I might be touched, but I can still leave unchanged. If I enter the presence of God, I cannot leave without being transformed. The salvation that Jesus came to bring wasn’t a word of inspiration or a gentle pat on the back. Jesus came to transform lives. He brought with him the presence of God, which, upon being encountered, requires a new life from all who experience it. But I’d rather have a messiah who fixes my life the way I want it to be fixed—not one who requires that my life be transformed.
As I heard someone say recently, “I don’t want a life-changing experience. I like my life just the way it is.” Well, if that’s true of any of us, we’d rather have a messiah who meets our needs rather than a God-incarnate who pulls the rug out from underneath us. Sure, it’s easier to pay a motivational speaker to come and tell us what we want to hear, but that’s not Jesus. Jesus is God among us. Encountering Jesus means salvation through transformation.